The Ptolemaic Dynasty

The Ptolemaic Dynasty was the 32nd and last dynasty in Ancient Egypt. The rulers were members of the Ptolemaic family, a Macedonian family that had ties to Alexander the Great. Their rule lasted from 305 BC to 30 BC for a total of 275 years.

Alexander the Great

During Alexander the Great’s conquests he reached Egypt in 332 BC, where he was greeted as a liberator from the Persian Empire. The oracle at the Siwa Oasis pronounced that he was the son of Amun, which Alexander gladly accepted. He founded the City of Alexandria, which would prosper during the Ptolemaic Dynasty. He would then go on to conquer the remaining parts of the Persian Empire; thereby, consolidating his power throughout the region.

Ptolemy I

Ptolemy Lagides, also known as Ptolemy I Soter, was a bodyguard and great close friend of Alexander the Great. In 323 BC, he was named satrap of Egypt, a title similar to a governor. He was given this position under the rule of Philip Arrhidaeus. There would be a power struggle between the kings, regents and the satraps that would lead to a civil war. It would not be until 305 BC that he would take the title as Pharaoh. His main enemy would be the Seleucid Dynasty in Syria and this fight and turmoil would continue over the next century.

Ptolemy II

Ptolemy II, the son of Ptolemy I, became co-regent in 285 BC alongside his father. He became the sole ruler of Egypt in 283 BC. Under his rule the Ptolemaic rule was better solidified due to his complete adoption of Egyptian religious beliefs and military accomplishments. He led the Egyptians in multiple wars that granted Egypt supreme naval control using the mite of their superior navy.

Ptolemy III, IV, and V

Under the next three rulers, a type of bilingual writing system came into use. Today, we know of it through the Rosetta Stone, which was created during the rule of Ptolemy V. Macedonia would attack under Ptolemy V’s rule, creating issues for Egypt as they continued to fight the Seleucid Empire as well. This resulted in the loss of several islands and some land in Syria. However, when Antiochus III, the ruler of Macedonia, went to war with Rome, Ptolemy V sided with Rome.

Other Rulers of Egypt

During the reigns of the next two rulers, Egypt would continue fighting against the Seleucid Empire. They would also be forced to reign with co-regents which resulted in fighting amongst the royal families within Egypt. This caused them to seek Roman help to solve many of their problems. This period was wrought with turmoil with multiple changes of rulers. For example Ptolemy VIII reigned three separate times and would try to take the island of Cyprus on multiple occasions, but would fail on each attempt. The fighting of the royal families would continue for a long time and this led to the rapid succession of many kingdoms; Ptolemy IX through the Ptolemy XII periods as well as Cleopatra I through Cleopatra VII’s sovereignties.

Cleopatra VII

Cleopatra VII became joint ruler with her brother Ptolemy XIII in 51 BC when Ptolemy XII died. She would soon try to take full control but would be met with resistance by her brother and eventually led to her exile in Syria. Cleopatra eventually built up her own army and would reclaim the throne. During this time, the Roman Civil War was also going on. Ptolemy XIII tried to gain the favor of Julius Caesar by capturing and executing Caesar’s rival, Pompey the Great. Pompey had fled to Egypt for refuge. Caesar was presented with the head of Pompey when he arrived in Egypt; however, this backfired as Caesar found it repulsive. He demanded that the body be recovered so that Pompey could be given a proper burial.

Cleopatra VII and Caesar

Cleopatra VII took advantage of Ptolemy XIII’s blunder to get closer to Caesar. According to Plutarch, Cleopatra VII had her bodyguards roll her in a carpet to be delivered to Caesar’s palace. She seduced him thus becoming his mistress. Nine months later they cemented their alliance with the birth of Ptolemy Caesar in 47 BC. Caesar then sent his army in opposition of Ptolemy XIII, ending the power struggle between Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIII. It is said that he drowned crossing the Nile, although it is not known if this was accidental or intentional. Cleopatra then took the throne with her younger brother Ptolemy XIV as co-regent.


Cleopatra VII was in Rome when Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Upon receiving news of his death, she returned to Egypt to continue reigning in Egypt. Ptolemy XIV died from poison later that year. Cleopatra VII was suspected to have had a role in his death, though nothing was done to solve this murder. She then made Ptolemy Caesar, her son by Caesar and known as Caesarion, as her co-regent.

Mark Antony

After the death of Julius Caesar there was still a continuance of Roman civil unrest. This time it involved Mark Antony, Roman Politician and General. Mark Antony sent a special envoy to Egypt to find out if Cleopatra VII was loyal to him as he was in opposition with those that had assassinated Caesar. History shows that they became romantically intertwined and in 40 BC she gave birth to twins. He would eventually take up Alexandria as his permanent residence and would father other children of Cleopatra VII. In 34 BC Cleopatra VII and Caesarion were named co-rulers of Egypt and Cyprus, while their three children were crowned rulers of their own regions that included Media, Parthia, Libya, Phoenicia, and Syria among others.

Death of Cleopatra VII and Annexation

With the Ptolemy Dynasty gaining various regions thanks to Mark Anthony, Rome began to worry about these Eastern areas rising against them. In January 33 BC, Octavian, later known as first ruler of the Roman Empire, openly attacked Mark Anthony by publicly reading the man’s will where it was written that he was granting his titles and territories to relatives in Egypt as well as to his Queen Cleopatra VII. This turned the Roman citizens against Mark Anthony. In 30 BC, Octavian, led Roman forces into Egypt and defeated Mark Antony. Later, Mark Anthony would commit suicide. Cleopatra VII then named her son Caesarion as successor; however, this was short lived. Cleopatra VII also died by either a self induced snake bite or a mixture of poisons most probably to avoid the wrath of Octavian and to hopefully secure her son as heir to the throne. Octavian took the City of Alexandria and had Caesarion killed, while the three children of Cleopatra and Mark Antony were spared. Egypt was annexed into the Roman Empire, ending the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

The Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria was founded under the rule of either Ptolemy I or his son Ptolemy II. It received tremendous sponsorship throughout the Ptolemaic dynasty, and would come to be known as the most significant library in the Ancient World. It soon came to be known as a major center of scholarship for not only Egypt, but all of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, it would be destroyed and burned during the Roman conquest of Egypt.